Apocalypse: then and now

Ransom Riggs

I was walking along a path with two friends when suddenly the sky turned blood-red "“ there were tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city "“ I stood there trembling with anxiety, and sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

Who can read Edvard Munch's willies-inducing description of his 1893 masterpiece, The Scream, without pausing to contemplate our own impending environmental apocalypse(s)? From the grotesque new strength of cyclonic storm systems to the unprecendentedly high incidence of forest fires, it seems that the only "scream passing through nature" is in the right-here-and-now. But as it turns out, The Scream wasn't ahead of its time at all "“ according to astronomers, Munch's bloody skies were in fact an accurate representation of how skies over Oslo looked during the winter of 1893, just months after what was probably the worst volcanic eruption in 1300 years spewed a billion tons of ash and gases into the atmosphere. That big bang was the infamous Krakatoa, which aside from improving sunsets and inspiring the odd painting,

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"¢ Exploded with a force of 30,000 megatons, 1,000,000 times more powerful than the blast which leveled Hiroshima, thus

"¢ Destroying two-thirds of the island after which Krakatoa is named, hurling great chunks of its rocky remains into the ocean, which in turn

"¢ Sent 120-foot tidal waves crashing into nearby Java and Sumatra, killing as many as 40,000, and

"¢ Creating the loudest sound ever historically reported, heard as far away as Perth, Australia.

"¢ Atmospheric debris acted as a solar filter, lowering global temperatures by an average of four degrees for a year.

That said, the Mentos and Coke gag just doesn't seem all that impressive anymore.